Call Her Madam, the First Self-Made American Woman Millionaire

walkerMadame C.J. Walker, born Sarah Breedlove in poverty-stricken Louisiana in 1867, went from picking cotton to become the first self-made American woman millionaire.  But it was not a straight line.

“There is no royal flower-strewn path to success,” she once observed. “And if there is, I have not found it – for if I have accomplished anything in life it is because I have been willing to work hard.”

She married at age 14, gave birth to her only daughter in 1885, and two years later became a widow. Upon her husband’s death she moved to St. Louis where her four brothers were barbers. She saved enough money working as a laundrywoman to educate her daughter.

How she began

During the 1890’s Sarah began to lose her hair due to a damaging scalp ailment. She was so embarrassed by her appearance that she began to experiment with scalp conditioners and healing formulas made by another Black entrepreneur, Annie Malone. She soon became a sales agent for Annie and moved to Denver. There she met and married Charles Joseph Walker.

How she progressed

Sarah changed her name to Madame CJ Walker and founded her own business selling Madam Walker’s Wonderful Hair Grower, a scalp conditioning and healing formula. She conducted an exhausting door-to-door sales campaign throughout the South and Southeast. She even opened a college in 1908 to train her “hair culturists.” Her corporation at one time employed over 3,000 employees.

In fifteen years she amassed a fortune and is the first known African-American woman to become a self-made millionaire. She died at age 52 in 1919.

Learn more

Learn more at her official website,, maintained by her biographer and great-great granddaughter, A’Lelia Bundles.

February is Black History Month when we pause to remember, acknowledge, celebrate, and express gratitude for the many black men, women and children who overcame great odds and endured hardships to become successful in their endeavors. The life of Madame C.J. Walker reminds us all that the secret to success is no secret at all. As she once explained, “I got my start by giving myself a start.”

Want Success? Decide the What, Let the How Take Care of Itself

riskLife is what happens to us while we’re busy making other plans.
~John Lennon

When you go after a goal, it’s important to have a clear vision of what you want or where you want to be when you succeed. But you don’t need to be overly concerned about how you will get there. The details of  how to reach your goal will unfold as you go. Even if you listed every single action step, unexpected results, people and events will occur along the way causing you to alter your course.  If you’ve ever have to take a detour from your carefully charted route or GPS guidance, you know what I mean.

Here are five ways to proceed that have worked for me and others.

  • Learn from people who have already accomplished what you want to achieve.

Just one conversation with another mom who was working on her doctoral degree gave me the courage to begin my own doctoral studies. It’s best, if possible, to have a mentor or supportive group with whom you can exchange ideas and get encouragement. It’s fortunate if you meet in person, but when you can’t, grasp the wealth of encouragement available from books, movies, and information exchange on the internet.

  • Be willing to concentrate so hard on what you are doing that time seems to stand still.

In his book Flow, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls this optimal experience “flow.”  He described flow as

The state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter.; the experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.

When I’m engaged in writing an article, for example, I sometimes get so caught up in what I’m saying that my fingers seem to fly trying to capture the thoughts rushing out of my head. At these times I reach such a peak of exhilaration and joy that I forget to eat. When this period subsides, my stomach growls, reminding me of my negligence.

  • Be willing to do what it takes to reach your goal.

This may sound too obvious to even mention. But it’s true. Many years ago when my kids watched Mr. Rogers, one of his popular songs was “You’ve Got to Do It.” The gist of this seemingly simple song was that you can make believe, wish or daydream about what you want, but for something to happen you’ve got to take action. You have to know every single step to start. Just take the first one and the second one. The remaining steps will become apparent as you progress.

  • Be willing to be alone.

I love having dinner parties, travel, and going to live theater. But I also love my own company. It’s only when all outside stimulation is silenced that some of my best ideas surface.

Some of the activities you’ll need to complete on the way to your goal must be done alone. If you feel the need to have a buddy, helper or ride-along with everything you do, you’re going to slow down and maybe even derail your progress.

  • Be willing to fail or quit.

The unwillingness to fail or be rejected is what causes us to procrastinate or stick with things longer than we should. We keep holding back waiting for things to be perfect or cling to a failing project long after it’s dead. It’ s wise to research and think things through, but you must let these ideas, projects, or activities be born, no matter what the outcome.

I decided long ago that when I’m sitting in my rocking chair stroking my gray Afro, recounting my life story, I’d much rather talk about the many things I had tried that didn’t work out than about what I wanted to do but never had the courage to try.

In his book, The Dip, Seth Godin points out that successful people quit many times. The key is knowing when to quit before you spend a disproportionate amount of time and energy on a goal or task that’s not going anywhere.

When Jia Jiang’s plan to create a to-do list app fell through, he was crushed. Not only did his major investor let him down, but now Jia had to disappoint his four employees and ask his wife to keep supporting the family while he pursued his dream. He was angry, plagued by fear,  and felt sick at the stomach. He decided that if rejection is part of success he should build up resistance to it. That’s how his 100 Days of Rejection Therapy began.  The plan was to make outrageous requests, video the response and blog about it. On Nov. 15, 2012 his began by asking a security guard for $100. The answer was “no” and although Jia was nervous, he continued his project. Check out his many requests and results on his blog at

You may not be brave enough to stare rejection in the face as Jia did, but don’t hesitate to start a project for fear of failing.  Instead of thinking of failure as the end, think of it as the cost of succeeding.

Set your vision and be willing to do what it takes to get there. The “how” will unfold in wonderful and amazing ways.

Share about a time your plans changed for the better as you moved toward a goal. Have you asked for something outrageous? How did that work out?

Practical Success Tips: Five Erroneous Beliefs That Are Blocking You From Achieving Your Goals

p_043A key part of achieving your goals is planning. Maybe your goal requires some extensive planning, but there is a point at which planning becomes procrastination. If you examine why you are procrastinating, you may discover that you are afraid of the unknown. We all are. So don’t let that stop you.

Or you may be procrastinating because you don’t really want this goal anymore. And that’s a good thing to discover.

Now you can set a new goal, but don’t spend time in the planning stage for too long. There are five erroneous beliefs that may be blocking you from achieving your goals.

1. You need lots more knowledge.

Having knowledge and skills before starting a project are admirable, but you cannot wait until you know all there is to know about the subject before you begin. Much that we need to know is gained along the way as we work toward a goal.

2. You need lots more money.

There are successful entrepreneurs who can attest to the fact that they began toward their goals with very little money. Some raised startup money by taking on extra jobs, saving, reducing spending and partnering with like-minded colleagues.

Start with whatever money you have to begin stepping toward your goal. As you enjoy small successes you will also increase your capital and know-how.

3. You must wait for just the right circumstances

There are no perfect circumstances.

4. The timing must be perfect.

There is no perfect timing.

5. You must wait until you feel completely confident.

Delaying to get started toward a goal actually erodes your confidence. It’s working toward and achieving your goal that builds confidence, not the other way around.

If deep in your gut you want this goal so badly that you can taste it, procrastinate no longer. Jump in. Success and achievement await you.

Practical Success Tips: Hop, Skip, Jump

69 hopscotch 3

When you set a goal do you find yourself getting overwhelmed trying to figure out how you’ll reach your success?

You turn it over and over in your mind, anticipate all that can go wrong and decide it will be hard because it will take time.

If so, you are not alone.

It is a human tendency to try to rely on our left brain–intellect, reasoning, facts–to help us achieve our goals.

At first thought this may seem like a good idea. After all, there are certain steps and strategies we must follow to accomplish our dreams.

But trying to figure out every step, every turn toward your goal will only create that overwhelmed feeling and will not move you toward your goal any quicker.

As a matter of fact, the more overwhelmed you get, the more you  paralyze yourself into inaction.

When we depend on our intellect alone to navigate us to our goal we get overwhelmed because we are often required to do something we’ve never done before.

To get where you’ve never been, you’ve got to be willing to do something you’ve never done.

The left brain deals in what is visible, obvious and tested. But if you only did what you knew would work or what has been tested it would be like marching in place: a lot of movement, but no forward progress.

There is a reason we have a right brain–creative, intuitive, imaginative. It is the part of us that gives us the vision for our goal in the first place and that fires that passion that will ensure our success.

Having all the facts and reasoning, but not the passion and imagination may lead to a form of success, but not the joyful, wonderfully satisfying and fulfillling success we wanted.

Having passion and imagination, but no facts or reasoning will have us arrive somewhere, but perhaps not the success goal for which we were aiming.

Working your left and right brain to work together, here are three steps to reaching your goal successfully.

1. Hop to visualizing your goal.

Visualize what you want. Since this is happening in your mind you can be as elaborate and expansive as you wish. Daydream like you did as a kid and don’t stray into trying to figure out the details of how you will accomplish your goal.

Don’t let what you see in front of you be your guide, and by all means disregard sensible advice.

2. Skip over the fear thoughts.

As soon as you begin to imagine a dream that’s bigger than your current circumstance, your left brain will start throwing facts at you to scare you and making you afraid of the unknown.

Fear has been described as an acronym





Dr. Clint Pearman, author of The Gift: Twelve Ingredients to Improve Your Life,   gave an example from his personal experience when I interviewed him recently. He was driving in his car and heard a song that began with the screeching of tires.  He immediately began to feel the fear, tightening and impending doom in his gut and checked his rearview mirror searching for that out of control car.  When he realized that it was not real, but was the intro to a recorded song (one he had put on to play,) he was able to relax and diffuse the stress. ( Listen to Dr. Pearman’s inspring and motivating interview to hear four  steps to diffusing your stress.)

Some of us live in constant stress from many situations that are not real, but imagined, but have the power to stop us from moving toward our goals.

3. Jump into action.

Waiting for the perfect answer, the perfect mate, the right time will
paralyze us. Why, we could waste our entire lives just…waiting. Each
choice requires some element of risk. Only those willing to risk will enjoy
the rewards. Those who don’t want to take a risk are not spared, though.

Even inaction is a risk. Unfortunately, if you choose not to take a risk, the
results probably won’t be to your liking.

No matter how much we plan and study, there will always be some
uncertainty in life. Get comfortable with this truth. It will help strengthen
your confidence and belief in your ability to handle anything that comes
up. From Chapter 3 of Color Your Life Happy

Take action toward your goal, even a small one. Commit to your goal, be willing to do whatever it takes to get there and you will discover the energy and courage to move forward. Each successful step forward gives you more confidence to take the next one.

When you proceed toward your goals with the three steps you will be following the strategy that has worked for so many others.

What goal will you start toward today?

Powerful Success Tips: 5 Tips That Will Propel You Toward Success

CB028161People who are having difficulty reaching goals labor under one big misconception. They believe that successful people move in one straight line from the inception of an idea to success.

On the contrary, successful people have strong beliefs that get them started, help them face difficulties and keep them going until they reach their goals.

Here are five of those beliefs.

1. I am worthy of success and deserve the best.

Successful people are able to go after what they want in life because they believe they deserve it. Your subconscious believes whatever you program into it and helps you get what you want. Trying to go after a goal you don’t believe you deserve is like driving west in an effort to go east.

2. I believe in my ability to handle whatever comes up.

Problems, adversities and challenges come up in everyone’s life. It is the belief that you can figure out a solution that is important.

3. There is a lesson I can learn from this failure

Many believe that failures are lessons designed to help us. When things don’t go your way, it’s helpful to reflect on what can use from the experience for the future.

4. I am responsible for my own life.

While we all can benefit from help from friends, colleagues and relatives, we must recognize that it’s the choices we make that create the lives we want.  Choosing what advice and paths to take is the most important of all.

5. I believe the sun will come out tomorrow.

This line from the musical Annie expresses how positive people feel. No matter what hard times they encounter, they believe that by continuing to move toward their goals, they will be successful.